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Keep up distancing, even as COVID-19 cases drop and vaccinations rise, health officials say

Brett Dahlberg

The pace of new novel coronavirus infections has slowed across Michigan since the state’s surge in November and December, but health officials warned Tuesday that vaccination rates are nowhere near high enough to prevent another upswell.

“We are vaccinating, getting doses in arms as quickly as we can, but we still have a long way to go before we have that community immunity where we can let our guard down,” said Dr. Josh Meyerson, the medical director for two health departments that cover a six-county section of the northwest Lower Peninsula.

“It’s still really important that people continue to follow the mitigation measures,” Meyerson said.

Outbreaks of the disease are still happening, he said, often linked to family gatherings and sports activities.

At most, about a third of people in any of the counties Meyerson’s health districts cover have been vaccinated, according to state health department data. The state’s lead epidemiologist has said the level of herd immunity that prevents the virus from spreading within the community won’t kick in until roughly 90% of the population is vaccinated.

In District Health Department No. 10, which borders Meyerson’s districts, medical director Dr. Jennifer Morse said staff were starting to focus on large vaccination clinics at central sites to get people inoculated more efficiently.

The number of people who can receive vaccines will grow on March 1, the state Department of Health and Human Services said last week, as food and agricultural workers and some people 60 and older will be eligible for doses.

Local health officials said until the state’s vaccination rate grows substantially, curbing the spread of the virus will continue to rely on people wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings. “Otherwise we’ll be right back where we were a few months ago,” said Meyerson.

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.
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